William A. Manley was born in Washington State in 1903, but like a number of his Alaska architect peers, moved to Alaska in 1913 in his childhood. Becoming an architect meant leaving the state for education, and in 1923 Manley moved to Idaho to study architecture at the University of Idaho - Moscow campus but left before finishing his degree. This didn't slow Manley - he started as a drafter for a local firm in Idaho until 1928, before working his way up to a firm in Washington through 1931 and eventually returned to his home city of Juneau, Alaska to work for an established firm, Lester Troast & Associates. Without a degree, Manley was still able to climb the ranks and eventually became an Associate Architect with the firm and was asked to start a branch of the firm in Anchorage.
In 1947, Manley left the practice of Troast & Associates which he'd help establish in Anchorage to form his own firm in partnership with Francis Bernardo Mayer. Their first project was the Loussac-Sogn building in Anchorage. Not yet a state, trends were slow in coming to the Alaska frontier. Where the Moderne style was expressed mainly in the 1920's and 1930's in the United States, the Loussac-Sogn building from 1947 is a key example of Anchorage moderne. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Manley & Mayer's next big commission was the Z. J. Loussac Library in Anchorage. The Anchorage Public Library has a lengthy history. Prior to the Manley & Mayer building, the library was moved into what was affectionately known as the "Cow Palace"; potentially a Quonset hut or old rail car, although there are no exterior images from the time to know exactly what the building was. It was, however, meant to be temporary, but the Cow Palace thrived for ten years until the Manley library was built.
Opened February 23, 1955, the library was 6,000 square feet on each the main floor and basement with a 2,300 square foot mezzanine and cost $350.000. The library had shelving for 100,000 volumes (and only 18,000 that were moved into the new building from the Cow Palace). The building was demolished in 1981 to make room for a new building.
Work was exploding for the Manley & Mayer firm. Coincident to the library, the firm was also working on the Anchorage High School (now West Anchorage High School). The building was rocked by the infamous 1964 Good Friday earthquake on March 27, 1954, but was not destroyed due to the resilient and strong concrete structure that the high school was built upon. The high school still stands today and is the second largest school in Alaska.
The firm continued in the school building business, designing the Woodland Park Elementary School (now the Woodland Park Boys & Girls Club), Homer High School, in Homer, Alaska and Valdez High School, in Valdez, Alaska.
In the late 1950's, Manley & Mayer expanded into college and university construction. The Bunnell building for the University of Alaska, Fairbanks described in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner described the building, "The fine modern structure dominates the brow of the university hill, fully utilizes winter light from south and western windows and commands a spectacular view of the Tanana Valley and the Alaska Range." Similar in appearance to Bunnell due to the red spandrel panels was the design of Grant Hall for the Alaska-Pacific University in Anchorage. The building still stands and is the oldest building on campus and considered one of the finest examples of the International Style in Alaska.
One of the last commissions that Manley and Mayer designed together is the Rasmusson Library on the campus of University of Alaska - Fairbanks campus. The library continues to be a large repository of historic documents all about the history of Alaska including the awesome Project Jukebox with oral and video recording about various portions of Alaska's diverse history.
Manley and Mayer parted ways in 1972. After the dissolution, Manley moved to Washington State where he practiced under his own name until his retirement in 1976. William A. Manley died on August 4, 1979, at the age of seventy-five in Washington.
After struggling to find information on mid-century Alaska architects, I actually found a number of architects and a number of resources. Check out these other items if you are interested:
Linn A Forrest and John Forrest Stevens. The father and son were responsible for two projects that I particularly admire; the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor's Center and the Juneau Centennial Museum (demolished and replaced in 2015.) The museum had a beautiful stylized native feather motif in the cast concrete on the exterior. You can see two beautiful photographs of the building here and here.
Douglas Ackey. Ackey's Joy Elementary School from 1960 is a joy to behold with its undulating crown of concrete.
Edwin Butler Crittenden. Crittenden had a hand in designing all sorts of structures around the Anchorage area. One of his ecclesiastical masterpieces is St. Mary's Episcopal Church. (Click through to the photographs at the bottom of the page.) Crittenden was the founder of Architects Alaska in 1950, a firm that is still in practice today. They have a page of images from Crittenden's early works.
Last are a few fun works around Anchorage. The first, a definite Googie-style building which was originally a bank, is currently a title company, but the building is still around, a rarity these days. The second is an almost-Googie motel in Fairbanks, as seen here on the Cardboard America Postcard site. Check out the Google Street View and see if you can even tell what was once this snazzy motel.
Thank you for reading about the life and legacy of Alaska architect William Manley. Do you have something to add about Manley or any of the other Alaska architects we've mentioned? Have another Alaska mid-century architect to recommend? Please let us know in the comments below - we always love to hear from you.
Alaska Territorial Board of Engineers and Architects Examiners, February 1955, Fairbanks. Manley is third from the left. Hmc-0209-seri9es9a-1-48, Victor Rivers Family Papers, 1915-1976, Archives and Special Collections, Consortium Library, University of Alaska Anchorage, Anchorage, AK. Via AlaskaHistory.org.
Drawing by architect William Manley. B1983.91.C1262.4, Ward Wells, photographer, Ward Wells Collection, Atwood Resource Center, Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center, Anchorage, AK. Via AlaskaHistory.org.
Modern day view of West Anchorage High School. Author unknown.
View of Grant Hall on the Alaska Pacific University Campus. Author unknown.